This sculptural, low-relief “slice” of crystalline geometry is a mathematical projection from five-dimensions into three.
When you move from one dimension to another circles become ellipses and angles change. My sculpture mimics a plane cast obliquely through a grid of hypercubes showing the conjoined surfaces. Fragments of the square faces of hypercubes have become skewed into diamond shapes. The sculpture is made from just one identical repeating shape, a rhombus with diagonals in the Golden Ratio.
The painted glass tiles are assembled according to certain mathematical matching rules that I’ve coded into a Baroque design, carved into rubber and printed on the glass. Each tile is printed and kiln-fired with traditional stained glass enamels, then painted several more times before being wrapped in adhesive copper tape. The tiles are then soldered together to build the sculpture. Below, copper-foiled glass tiles stacked in boxes and a small section tack-soldered together.
The tiles fit together easily to form convex or concave rosettes with five ‘petals’. They also form groups of three, either shallow dishes or steeper ‘ears’. When the tiles are correctly conjoined my painted pattern flows through from tile to tile, creating a cohesive overall design. If each tile is also located correctly in three-dimensions the sculpture can grow infinitely without repeating itself, by simply adding more tiles.
When light is cast through the sculpture onto a parallel surface the stained glass projects a two-dimensional image of another geometric pattern. Discovered in the late 1970’s and called Penrose tiling, this pattern is made up from two different tiles. This also is beautiful and fascinating, and I have been obsessed with it since I was a post-grad student at the Royal College of Art in 1984.
I had the lovely opportunity to meet Sir Roger last year for lunch at Yale and show him my model for this sculpture. I also took a stained glass panel I’d made some years before with his famous tiling pattern in it. This was the last of my Menfolk series and the beginning of my full-time focus on stained glass geometry.
I’ve received a lot of encouragement along the way, especially from computer scientist Duane Bailey who has been researching Penrose tiling for decades. When I met Duane almost four years ago we were both working in two-dimensions. This past July we started working together in three.
We have built three sculptural models so far, each with over 500 tiles the size and shape of business cards. We have designed four more sculptures. Each uses colour to explore some particular aspect of the geometry.
The assembly was fiddly and time consuming, but well-worth the effort.
The reverse of the sculpture is beautiful too. Each tile is made from a plain folded business card, and the triangular folded-back corners cluster together like the petals of mountain laurel.
I learned such a lot about the this geometry. That it grows from seeds that change shape depending upon where you begin. That it has kingdoms, worms and skeps, and more rules called inflation hierarchies to be taken into account. The surface can fold up to nest over itself in curious ways.
Remarkably, this pattern also models the structure of quasicrystals, materials that exhibit long-range order at a molecular level but lack any of the classic symmetries that characterize conventional crystals. Quasicrystals are neither amorphous solids (like glass or plastic) or regular crystalline materials (like salt or diamonds). They exhibit a host of unusual physical properties and can be made to self-assemble from nanoparticles to make invisible materials.
Making life-sized models of molecular structures in glass is pretty neat, and building something by hand (rather than modeling on a computer) provides wonderful insights. It may be difficult to visualize a skewed five-dimensional cube being ‘projected’ into another dimension) but the relationship between sculpture and cast image is really quite simple, and elegant to witness.
My stained glass panel Ornithologist is hanging in The Shops at the Library Antiques in Williamstown as part of IS-183, the Art School of the Berkshires 25 year celebration Faculty Art Show. This delightfully unconventional exhibition takes place in various non-traditional gallery spaces up and down Spring Street in Williamstown Massachusetts.
Artwork by more than 75 artists from across our region will be on show until June 16. Maps will be provided at the opening reception on Saturday, May 21, from 4-6pm, at the Purple Pub. After that, visitors may pop into any participating venue, pick up a map and take a self-guided walking tour.
And… as a new member of the Vermont Glass Guild I am showing six of my stained glass panels alongside the work of 30 other Vermont and New England glass artists at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, Vermont. All are from my seven-year long, 14-piece series Menfolk that explores the emotional landscape of men over time and in different circumstances. Included in the exhibition is Sir Edmund Hillary (below, detail). This was the subject of a lovely 13min video made by our son, Jack Criddle that documents my process, showing how each separate piece of glass is cut, painted, fired and assembled.
There will be an opening reception for “Modern Alchemy – The Art of Glass” in the Wilson Museum and Galleries at the Southern Vermont Art Center, in Manchester, VT on Friday, May 21, from 5 – 7pm. I’ll be there to greet visitors and get to know my fellow glass artists. The show will run through July 10, 2016.
Because some things just can’t be learned from YouTube.
Richard and I were reminded of this last week as we wrestled with self-leveling cement for a bathroom floor. We have 15 years of art school education between us, and a broad range of practical skills. Richard has been MASS MoCA‘s Director of Fabrication and Art Installation since the museum opened in 1999, and responsible for building hundreds of extraordinary works of art in a wide variety of materials. But this tiny, 5ft x 8ft bathroom floor was threatening to get the better of us.
We’d watched the videos, pored over instructions, and measured everything precisely, but this darn cement turned out to have a mind of it’s own. Plus, a fierce surface tension that made it cure into pahoehoe-like slabs with lightning speed. Self-clumping would be a better description, like kitty litter. Figuring out how to level this lava-like eruption forced me to become more intimate than usual with the subtle topography of our bathroom floor. Eventually, we sort-of won, and the floor was sort-of leveled.
Battle-weary, as we cleaned our tools and tidied my studio for a week of glasspainting, it hit me: I teach in order to save others from this same experience: the demoralizing frustration that results from such a huge gap between what you want or expect, and what the mixture or material appears able to do.
Just a few days earlier, Annie O’Brien had come from Cornwall in England for private tuition. She had heard about my methods, downloaded my Notes for Students and painted glass with my mixture, but had yet to achieve the results she saw in my videos. Annie teaches stained glass at Penzance School of Art and, besides developing her own work, wanted to help her students paint glass more fluently.
Reviewing Annie’s workshop in the light of my floor-leveling struggles prompted me to recall comments such as “Oh, I read about that in so-and-so’s book but it didn’t/I couldn’t/it wasn’t clear…”. Then, as I took Annie through my basic procedures, I began to hear “Oh, this is so different than I’ve been getting… “. Or, as she learned to recognize the correct consistency and viscosity “This is way easier, and so much more fun.”
And this is my point: all the YouTube videos out there cannot substitute for a few hours of hands-on time with the right person.
And so, last week, four more artists drove across the country to take a 5-day workshop, Glasspainting For Artists, in my studio. Marianne Parr from Athens, Georgia, was working on developing a free and more personal style of glass painting and figuring out where she wants to go as an artist. Daniel White of Cain White Art Glass, Virginia came to learn how to create more expressive tracing and textural effects for commissioned work. Carol Slovikosky, who has taken several design and painting workshops with me, was expanding her figurative work to include canine portraits, and Brenda Benson came to the workshop to learn how to add pattern to her sculptural pieces.
I always aim to teach the individual, and this is easier with small groups. As I figure out each artist’s needs and goals I can be flexible with the curriculum, address specific requests, and encourage exploration. Last week I gave slide presentations that included aspects of stained glass design, including the positioning of support bars, which spurred a spontaneous session I dubbed “Sacred Geometry 101”. Then, since both Brenda and Daniel wanted to use my mixture for figurative work, they chose to paint faces during the workshop. Brenda, whose tuition fees were covered largely by the SGAA’s MalDeb Fund, went on to figure out the precise viscosity of paint needed to print hand-carved linoleum.
My next student, LeaAnn Cogswell, is an accomplished sculptor and painter who has yet to figure out how to use glasspaint as beautifully as she does clay. She has remarkable drawing skills, masses of experience and solid art training. The Stained Glass Association of America awarded LeaAnn a Dorothy L. Maddy Scholarship to come and study with me. With a few days of one-to-one, hands-on instruction, I’m confident that LeaAnn will swiftly become an excellent glass painter.